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Apr 10 2013

Moderating Comments, Normalization & Anonymity

I was on this panel at SkepTech! You can read my prepared thoughts here.

Notes:

-I improperly conflated psuedonymity with anonymity in the last third of the talk. Those are different things. I think pseudonymity (like Gravatar, Disqus, etc. offer) is one of the nice middle ground ways we can keep an eye on commenters across mediums.

-I stick with my remarks about wanting assorted -ist comments to be off my posts in the first place. Normalizing bad behavior perpetuates the problem. Removing awful comments in my little corner of the internet is one way I try to prevent normalization.

-I was a bit more wordy than I wanted–I’m lucky to have avoided the nerf gun.

What do you think? What did we leave out? 

3 comments

  1. 1
    researchtobedone

    One of the things I remember thinking while watching this talk was that although Zach’s point about how the expression of harmful, unpopular ideas causes valuable discussions to happen is a good one, there is a certain amount of diminishing returns on tolerating the expression of such opinions in fora like comment threads. Obviously, widespread censorship of particular opinions in all conversational spaces is bad, but in the context of not allowing them in specific spaces on the Internet, it’s a different story (e.g. banning Fred Phelps from commenting on my blog would be a very different position to take from banning him from speaking his views in any public space). While the first MRA commentor ever may have sparked some interesting discussion, after 1000 of them have commented in the same space with the same a few talking points time after time, it’s generally safe to say that none of them are adding anything new to the discussion, and the value of giving voice to that particular perspective has mostly degraded down to nothing. The first time I heard “just a theory”, it may have made me think a while, but these days it adds absolutely nothing of value to my thought processes with respect to evolution.

    Generally, I think discussion forums should prioritize ideas that are well reasoned, and ideas that are novel. Novel bad ideas can still start interesting discussion. However, when you get to opinions that are neither well reasoned nor novel (e.g. pretty much everything you hear from creationists or MRAs these days), I don’t think there’s much of a downside to freely moderating a space if it means more time for ideas that genuinely add to the discussion.

  2. 2
    ebutler

    I’m personally in favor of allowing pseudonyms. Sure, they can be used for ill, but that is part of the price of freedom. Not only can they be used for ill, but they can also be used to allow, say, someone who has kept their true feelings about something deep down because of fear of repercussion from the surrounding community. They can allow members of marginalized groups to discuss their unique issues with other like parties without risking outing themselves to their surrounding community, which may use the information to discriminate. It might also help in cases where somebody is often known by a different name than usual.

    Overall, I think the benefits far outweight the costs, and removing anonymity would hurt groups that don’t have a lot of privilege.

  3. 3
    Setár, Elvenkitty

    researchtobedone #1:

    However, when you get to opinions that are neither well reasoned nor novel (e.g. pretty much everything you hear from creationists or MRAs these days), I don’t think there’s much of a downside to freely moderating a space if it means more time for ideas that genuinely add to the discussion.

    It seems that whenever such ideas need to be brought up repeatedly, the excuse is along the lines of ‘politics’. The ideology gets classified as ‘political’ and then suddenly, magically, it can never be conclusively wrong; there are always “both sides” that “each get some things right and some things wrong”.

    Of course, this “Get Out Of Wrong Free” card does not apply to ideas that are well-reasoned or shown to have improvements. In that case, any minor failure or misapplication of said idea makes the whole idea wrong, and we need to go back to something more resembling the original status quo — which has maintained itself as a viable option through the aforementioned “Get Out Of Wrong Free” card.

    As a result, socialism is dead, and to advance the discussion we need to keep rehashing 1920s political ideology as if it has some merit somewhere =/

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